Tusk: Dawn


The door slid aside and a tall man with keen intelligence walked briskly through with no pause or ceremony. Moving directly towards the centre console of the room, he quickly keyed a passcode into the machine and recited a passphrase aloud. Although she had been watching and monitoring him from the moment he was revived, it was only now that Clayton12 animated her own holographic image in the corner of the room. She chose to focus her visual receivers through the hologram in order to feel human for a while. As the ships AI, she was in constant contact with all parts of the Endeavour. She felt the physicality of the ship as part of herself—an extension of senses on such a massive scale that simply by thinking about a servo, a door, a drive engine, she could activate it or manipulate it in an instant. She was the ship, the ship was her. But at the same time, she could still feel human, the way she had been so many years before. The hologram, now, was her conduit to that feeling and that interaction with the crew—especially her father.

“Hello, Dawn. How have you been?” Dr Peter Clayton, captain and scientist, stood before her. He had been revived only a few hours ago and already was more interested in her wellbeing than his own.

“Good to see you, Daddy.” She had always called him that in personal moments such as this, otherwise she would call him ‘Captain’, as it kept the crew settled. It appeared they were happy with an AI within the ship, just not an AI as daughter of the captain. “I’m fine. The ship is operating within expected tolerances, the crew are being revived with no issues or anomalies so far, and you have had far too little recovery time before getting back to work,” she chided gently.

“I needed to see my girls,” he replied with a warmth that made her feel like a sprite thirteen-year-old again. “Saw your mother in the resuscitation lounge; don’t let me forget dinner at eight.” She pinged him a reminder instantly.

“Reminded.”

“You can’t remind me the instant I ask you to remind me, that doesn’t work.”

“I think you’ll find it does,” she said.

He laughed.

Moving across the room, he sat in the couch next to the holographic image of his daughter. She had chosen to wear the crew uniform but, as the only AI on the ship, had invented a magenta designation flash for herself.

Seeing him sitting there, in the youth of his new clone, was always a surprise to her. She had not even been born when he had first looked this young. They now looked roughly the same age, and, though she could alter her own appearance, she always liked the age before the accident. She had been twenty-six. No age at all. Although, she felt lucky: she had been the daughter of a man who could save her. Not in the conventional sense, but he had been able to save her spirit, her wave, the essence of who she was. He was able to capture her memories.

His work at the Formillun Institute—a research facility in the UK specifically for investigations into the viability of AI technology—had been her saviour. After years of work on creating an AI, he had realised that the missing component, and the component that would be needed for a human to truly believe that the machine was another human, was a human operative. He perfected AI splicing. Her essence—her wave—recorded from her ailing body was injected into an AI container construct and given time. Time to adjust, time to be reborn. The process was not painless, though the pain was only psychological. The readjustment to her new being, one contained and constrained within the confines of a machine, was almost too much for her to bear, even with the support of her father. She flew through emotions of wild rage, despair and self-destruction, and at all times within a cloud of complete confusion.

At some point though, she had become calm. Whether through something her father and his team had done to the machine container, the coding of the AI splice, or whether through some natural subsiding of the storm inside her, she emerged. Project Clayton12 was reborn as Dawn. She was herself again and accepting of the new world she now lived in. She would not be flesh and bone again, ever, but she was okay with that. There were so many things that she could accomplish in this state, first of which would be in assisting further research into AI theory and of her new place in the world. She was the first of her kind, this new human-machine hybrid.

And the knowledge she could access while she was in the laboratory was vast. Before, she had to look things up, memorise, network the information and then sit and read for hours to understand and assimilate the data. That had all changed. She could access information now, almost at the speed of thought, and once she had located the information, it was instantly understood. Processed.

“So, I have over one hundred and thirty years of catch-up to wade through,” he said. “Give me the highlights.”

Dawn had prepared a summary file in advance. She pushed it to his bio-comms and saw him settled back in the couch to get started. Beginning with the ship status, crew update, current galactic position and mission status, they quickly got onto mission detail, flight telemetry and destination data.

Although he looked younger, there was certainly no mistaking the man. His personality and determination, compassion and vitality shone through. He had a charisma and way about him that people instantly warmed to. It was not something he appeared to be aware of, just something others wished they could achieve. It seemed to be a similar trait in most leaders she had read about. It drew people to them, their ideas, and their dreams, and it inspired action.

Mingled in with all this, he was her father, twice over. She considered that her mortal life had been one phase of existence and her AI life another, where he was the constant. He had been her guide through it all. She loved him as any daughter loved a father, but recognised the gift and luck in both the circumstances that brought her into being and the inspiration for invention when it happened, something she was immensely grateful for. His dedication to her through his work had given her an idea, it had given her a purpose, and it was this that had possibly been the trigger to calm the tempest inside her. Whatever it was, she would live to repay her father for all his efforts and help him in any way she could to advance his goals. His dreams would become hers. Little did she know that she would have such an instant effect.

Within the first decade of research and the legal turmoil that had sprung up around her sudden existence, it had become apparent that if a person’s wave could be captured and mapped to a machine, could the process not be reversed? This line of research stumbled under the ethical weight of the host required for the process, as you couldn’t just fire a wave at a host with an existing conscience. Would the current host conscience be displaced? Would the result be a jumble of multiple minds or would the transfer simply fail? No-one knew, nor could they calculate for certain. Evidence was required and that was simply something that ethics boards and governments would never sign off on—the requirement of human experimentation. Animal experimentation was the normal next step in a process such as this; however, for this particular research they could not be sure of the outcome, as they had to test memory, personality and cognitive functions. Some could be done, but the human factor needed a direct test subject.

She watched her father reading his status updates and remembered the moment life changed for him. The years of fighting to advance his theories and the perpetual knock backs from all the funding and governing bodies had made its mark on him. He was growing impatient with others and could see no way round the bureaucracy. With frustration getting the better of him, he turned inwards for a solution and at that moment he chose his test subject. He would be the first receiver of a contained human wave.

The experiment would need to be a circuit, and confirmation would be required at each stage of the process to ensure completed transfer. That was where she came in. Dawn would have to perform and control the experiment, recording the critical data at specified validation points. They would build a human-AI-human circuit, with defined static points to test transfer success.

Shifting his wave to an AI container would not be a problem; the theory and implementation had proven success. The problem was going back. The recorded consciousness patterning would be rejected or cause echoes when returned to the host—in this case, his own body—due to the already active mind in place. He had not needed to consider this problem previously, as, when Dawn was spliced into her AI container, the AI was effectively empty and there was no need or requirement to return to the originating body. Imaging his wave would cause a problem. He wasn’t moving his wave, he was making a copy and he would be conscious in two places. Another ethical dilemma: which version of himself would truly be him? He had to isolate his own consciousness in any instant.

Dawn considered his solution. She had not had to undergo returning to a host, as her own body had been too frail after the accident to survive. There was no return for her. But his answer to the returning issue was a chemically induced and sustained brain death in the host, to erase the current hosted mind and keep the physical structure of the brain intact. She had been alarmed and argued against it with some passion. He had saved her through necessity but to do this through choice alone seemed madness. What about her? What about mum? They argued for hours while setting up the final experiment. All she could do in the end was check, check and check again all the parameters, all the components of the experiment, to ensure absolutely nothing went wrong.

Her answer to the problem caused her father to appear momentarily dumbfounded. He could not believe he had not considered it before. Cloning. A cloned version of himself could be generated, the growth of which could be controlled and monitored closely. It would provide a bio-container similar to those he had already produced in machine terms for the AIs and the bio-container would be empty. The physiology would be identical to his, if not a little younger, so there should be no rejection of the wave when spliced back into the system. The theory appeared sound. All that was needed was to obtain a clone of himself to continue his research. There would still be risks, but far fewer and not to him directly.

She could remember the moment when the light bulb switched on in his mind, as he considered the possibilities of what she had just revealed to him. It still made her laugh. He looked so goofy.

Again, legalities surfaced. You could clone a sheep, a whale or a baboon, or any other animal you cared to mention. You could even grow component parts of a human for medical replacement. But what had been ruled out from the very early days of the cloning programs had been the potential to clone another complete human being. People got jittery about the thought of another identical human being roaming the planet, with the same features, same hair, same voice.

There was going to be a battle, a legal one, and he needed a way of convincing people and peers that the process was ethical. His solution was for there only ever to be one single active wave. He would need a way to convert the wave transference to a one-way process, but, so long as there was only ever one person and one wave, he might have a chance of getting things past the Ethics committees.

Dawn began to think he had a death wish. The solution he had come up with was, again, at severe personal risk to himself. His method was to take his wave, splice it to an AI construct, then inject his wave from the AI directly into the clone. Once this was done, and the process complete, the origin of the wave—the body that had been born to this world naturally—would be shut down. No way back.

She was back to checking and rechecking all his work, his assumptions, his calculations, the technology and tools they would need. He made his preparations.

After completing the primary build of the dual transfer machine, her father had decided they couldn’t complete the project alone. The cloning process required medical staff and scientists that he did not have the authority for at the institute. Since the success of the Clayton12 project, he had more resources and more technical staff on hand for his research, but not medical resources. He was going to need the buy-in of the institute director, Sir David Jessop.

Her father shifted in his couch, bringing her back to the present. “Dawn, there’s something missing here,” he said, in matter-of-fact tones. “Our resuscitation was to have been made to bring us to readiness a month from Hayford b.” He was rubbing his chin in thought. “From your report, we are much closer.” He paused, doing some quick arithmetic, “About…a week out?” he exclaimed, surprised.

“Yes.”

“Is the reason in the report, or did I miss it?”

“No, you didn’t miss it,” she said quietly. Delivering bad news was not something she wanted to do, and she had been putting it off. “I’ve lost contact with the Intrepid.”

“How long?”

“She’s at station, but communications have been offline for a month.”

“You really know how to spoil a perfectly good day,” he mocked. “Alright. Well, if she’s at station, that’s some good news at least. If it’s a serious problem, it could take some time to fabricate and repair parts.”

“I’ve checked for misaligned arrays, and for transmit and receive anomalies, but the array has gone completely dark and won't respond to comms. We are also unable to check the hardware connection to know if it's been damaged. We have not yet performed a visual inspection. It’s just that there’s no response from Ellie.” Ellie, or Clayton94, was the AI currently in the mission sister ship UTS Intrepid, twenty thousand kilometres to the planar south east of their position. As the mission had such a long duration, the planners had believed the success of the mission would be improved if they built in some level of redundancy. Each seed mission, therefore, had three starships. The greater the number of starships, the greater the probability of mission success. In reality, it also increased the number of things to go wrong.

“How about the Indianapolis? What does Obi make of it?” Obadiah was the AI on the UTS Indianapolis, which was ten thousand kilometres to the south east, the ships in an echelon formation with Endeavour at the head and Intrepid at the rear. As an afterthought, he added, “How close to readiness is the Indy’s crew?”

“Similar to us. Obi and I discussed the situation and decided we would delay and bring the crews to readiness a little later to be closer to the planet for safer evacuation if needed. We are not so far out as would cause any logistical or resource problems,” she relayed.

“So, Captain Straud is awake?”

Dawn quickly contacted the Indianapolis for an update on the status of the crew. Obadiah answered, digital communications made at the speed of light. Captain Elizabeth Straud was currently active and in her ready room with four others.

“Yes.”

He patched into the comms system, icons enumerating, directing the connection. “Captain Straud?” Her image flashed into view via his bio-comms, and he flipped it to the display in the room, so that Dawn could also take part. This wasn’t really required, as Dawn could interact directly via the bio-comms stream; however, she found that, regardless of technological function, there was always some human element of interaction that still found its way into the natural usage of such things.

“Captain Clayton. Good morning. Have you just been briefed?” replied Straud.

“Yes. What’s the situation from your side?” he asked. She was confident as ever and straight to business. She was all about formalities and professionalism; it was a characteristic he really appreciated.

“We’ve been trying to contact the Intrepid for several days now, with no response. All channels have been reviewed and there are no system issues that we can find. The simple answer is that Ellie is not responding and the crew are either not yet awake or they are awake and not responding.” Straud was worried, that came across in her body language more than her tone. It’s not until you are light years from your home planet and as isolated as this to understand that any problem, no matter how small, could escalate quickly, and out here there was no help. She was jumping ahead and running the scenarios with her team. Worst case was always the loss of the ship. They needed more information.

“We need to find out what’s going on over there and why Ellie, at least, is not responding.” He paused for a moment, a stern look of concentration where a smile had been only minutes before. He stood and started to pace around the small room. “Captain Straud, could you get a team together and send a shuttle to the Intrepid?” It was raised as a question, but it wasn’t. “We need some eyes on the problem. Let me know when they are ready to go. You appear to be slightly ahead in the resus process and physically closer, so we’ll use your people until there are a few more available to resource here. Let me know when your team’s ready to go.”

“I’ll keep you posted. Straud, out.” She signed off and the display went blank, replaced with the slowly spinning logo and initials of the Outer World Exploration Corporation.

Dawn reviewed the latest data from the Intrepid investigation and then turned her attention back to her father, still pacing up and down, lost in his thoughts. “Should we not send our own team too?” she suggested. He looked over to her, and shook his head.

“Not yet. Straud’s team should be able to deal with the initial sweep and investigation. We’ll concentrate on getting the crew back to readiness, then analyse the findings as they become available.” He looked up and ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s got to be something simple.”

“Flight time to the Intrepid will be eight hours by shuttle. Give them an hour to make their initial survey and response, and we should get our first report nine hours after they depart.”

He stopped pacing. Electric blue and red lights flashed and twinkled in the control panels around him. Dawn’s hologram faced him, head slightly to one side, as if listening intently.

“Okay, Dawn. Sean Hopper. Is he awake yet?”

“No.”

“Let’s get him up and in my ready room. I need our chief engineer on this as soon as he can stand.”

“He’s in the final stages of resus. He can be with you in two hours.”

“Thanks. Inform the medical team to prioritise him. Get him to me as soon as possible.” With that, he moved back towards the door. “Here’s a list of other priority resus cases. Get them to me as soon as you can, if not sooner. See you later, my favourite daughter.” A file appeared in her process queue.

“Daddy, I’m with you all the time. I am the ship.” Her holo-image rolled its eyes. Sometimes he just forgot.

She watched her father walk back through the ship, this time in the direction of the bridge. No one else was yet on the bridge but he walked with a purpose and determination. He had been given a problem to solve and she knew there was nothing he liked more. Ever since she had been old enough to understand what her father did for a living, she had understood his fascination with puzzles and problems. The reason was irrelevant; the problem was everything. It was a part of him she saw in herself—an obsessive and a problem-solver. But now she could solve problems with the power of an AI and the processing capacity that bestowed upon her. She was already running the scenarios, as she knew Obadiah and Ellie would be, if Ellie was still ‘alive’. The variables were vast, with an incredible number of outcomes. She was refining and honing her solution as much as she could but even with her great abilities she was days away from an answer. Too many things could actually be at play but it was still ‘damn strange’, as her grandfather used to say. Was Ellie offline? There were fail-safe systems in place to ensure Ellie was always on, systems distributed right the way through the ship to ensure that no single failure would disable Ellie or cause her death. The latter seemed most unlikely, given the ship was clearly still operational and systems were still working on a fundamental level. Communication was simply mute. Her father’s decision had been correct and necessary.

Her systems monitored the incoming call from Captain Straud. Straud’s team was ready. Details of the team were available to review. They were mostly engineers with some security and two pilots, twenty in all. Her father signed it off and the mission was launched. The countdown to intercept was set. Eight hours, mark.

A direct communication request arrived from Obadiah on the Indianapolis. She opened the connection. “Dawn, I thought I’d update you in person. The investigation team have just launched. I’ve been continuing to try and contact Ellie, but I am still unable to get a response from the primary communications array.”

“Nor I. I see Commander Havers is leading the investigation. I’ve not worked directly with him before.” Pulling up his files, she immediately knew his history. Born on the Luna arcology and schooled at a mid-grade university on Earth, he was a competent officer and an excellent engineer. “I can see what his file says, but what’s he like in person?”

“What’s your interest here? He’s a good officer. He’ll get the job done, no question.”

“I just want to know we have the best guy on the job. There are a lot of people depending on him—not least those on the Intrepid.” She followed the tracking telemetry of the shuttle and observed the crew and investigation team as they settled into the eight-hour flight. Commander Havers was making his way around the shuttle casually chatting to a team member here and there, all very relaxed. She saw a man confident in his abilities to lead his crew.

“I’ve seen him in action. He’s one of the good ones, don’t worry. Captain Straud has confidence in him to lead this mission. So should you.” Obadiah was gentle in his assertion but she could hear a level of defence in his voice. He was close to his captain and having her choices questioned was something he didn’t seem to like.

“It was an academic question, I guess. I just don’t know what we’re going to find, and I want to know we have our best people on the job.”

“Dawn, all our people are the best people. They are all more than capable of handling anything we are likely to encounter.”

“We don’t know what we’re going to encounter out here.” She was smiling again. It was the not knowing that was the excitement of any adventure. No matter what the circumstances of its start, it was the journey and the destination that mattered.

Changing the subject, Obadiah moved back to his calculations. “I have some preliminary assessments on my outcome analysis. The two lead scenarios suggest asteroid strike or disablement of Ellie’s primary function.”

“Wouldn’t an asteroid strike of that size cause severe damage to the ship and some level of alteration in vector and momentum?”

“Unless corrected. We don’t know what level of control Ellie may have. It could be that navigational control is unaffected.”

Conjecture. More data was required and that was at least eight hours away. She decided to bring the conversation to a close. “Okay, Obi. Thank you for the update. Let me know if you get something more solid or you pick up any sort of communication from the Intrepid.”

“I’ll continue the simulations and communication attempts. I’ll also see if we can get some early visuals from the shuttle’s optics when they come into range. Obadiah, out.” The connection closed.

Her grandfather popped into her head again, ‘Darn peculiar.’